One never knows what the universe has in store. Every subtle change can become a major shift that results in disaster or brilliance. Such is the case with The Winery Dogs. Legendary drummer Mike Portnoy (Adrenaline Mob, Dream Theater, Flying Colors) has long wanted to be part of a power trio, and it was with that in mind that he began working with iconic bassist Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big, Talas, Niacin, David Lee Roth), and the enigmatic John Sykes. Sykes who manhandled guitars and vocals for the likes of Blue Murder, Tygers of Pan Tang, Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake, and who took leave of The Winery Dogs before the first glass could be poured. One simple choice and the dynamic shifts: Enter Richie Kotzen…
Kotzen, who has always somehow been the second man in, as with Poison, Mr. Big, and now The Winery Dogs, is actually the hero in this tale. The virtuoso vocalist/guitarist not only adds to the mind-numbing chemistry created with Sheehan and Portnoy, he is the intangible magic, that elusive element which elevates the entire project. With The Winery Dogs, Kotzen is no longer the odd man in, but the spirit, soul and inspired charisma of the band.
This is not to take away in any form from the mammoth talents of his partners in crime: Billy is, as ever, the consummate performer and his fingerprints are all over the band’s debut album. Likewise, Portnoy is at his rhythmic and possessed best on this record. It was not all surprising when Mike stepped out of Adrenaline Mob to focus on this trio. This is sonic genius. But again, without Kotzen, this wine don’t pour– that dog don’t hunt–insert your own hackneyed euphemism…
Europe got its ears on the album first, and immediately the buzz crossed the ocean. The album’s debut single and lead off song, “Elevate” got everyone stoked for what was to come. “Elevate”, more than any other track on this record really taps into the style Kotzen and Sheehan created during their time together in Mr. Big. The massive, hooky chorus is simply addictive.
All 13 tracks represented on this eponymous first offering are a testament to the trio’s collective gifts for crafting memorable melodies, jazzy rhythms, catchy harmonies, rumbling grooves, and soul-stirring blues. Kotzen’s smoky vocal delivery hits the mark on every track, and his fretwork matches that perfection note for note.
There is nothing that can be said about Sheehan and Portnoy that hasn’t been stamped in the rock and roll history books, and they bring their “A” game to this record. Tracks like “Desire”, “I’m No Angel”, “You Saved Me” and “Damaged” are jammed with emotive intensity and rich aural flourishes. Then there are tracks that resonate with sweet rolling grooves such as “We Are One” and “Not Hopeless”. Every song simply vibrates with an intuitive and passionate current.
“Supergroup” is an idiom that seldom lives up to its weighty and lofty ideal however The Winery Dogs are a clear exception to that rule. Kotzen, Sheehan and Portnoy have delivered on every level with their stunning debut, and fans can only hope this is not a one-off project that slips into the nether.